piątek, 28 lutego 2014

Kasper Tom 5 – Ost Bingo Skruer (2013) ****

Tomasz Dabrowski - trumpet, balkan horn
Rudi Mahall - bass clarinet
Petter Hangsel - trombone
Jens Mikkel Madsen - bass
Kasper Tom Christiansen - drums


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by the European Jazz quintet Kasper Tom 5, led by Danish drummer / composer Kasper Tom Christiansen, with German clarinetist Rudi Mahall, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Dabrowski, Swedish trombonist Petter Hangsel and Danish bassist Jens Mikkel Madsen. Christiansen and Dabrowski are also members of the excellent Hunger Pangs trio. The album presents ten original compositions, six of which were composed by the leader and the remaining four are credited to the entire quintet.

The quintet is constantly walking on a tight rope between "usual" and "unusual", which is of course great fun. Seemingly a standard quintet and yet the brass section features a completely nonstandard bass clarinet / trumpet / trombone front line, which has a completely different sonority from a regular saxophone dominated ensemble. Seemingly playing melodies, yet there is actually more freedom and free improvisation than one might expect or even be able to hear upon the initial encounter. This stuff requires some serious listening in order to be properly digested, which is usually the case with unusual music.

With all the freedom and group improvisation involved, this music is surprisingly "easy" on the ear, mainly because it is completely non aggressive, even in the most passionate moments. The flow of the music is all natural, following a melodic theme or a harmonic sequence, often even introducing several complex intertwined leads, but always executed with grace and obvious mutual respect and understanding between the quintet members. The whole proceedings are a rare example of group members that actually complete each other rather than compete between each other. There is no obvious leader; nobody gets more solo space than anybody else, in short a wonderful unity is achieved herein.

Of course the album is also a superb display of individual skills and talents, but those can be truly appreciated only with repeated listening sessions, allowing the listener to concentrate on a specific instrumentalist rather than listen to the entire ensemble. One way or another, this album is full of wonderful moments, which are simply waiting there to be discovered.

With young European Jazz musicians like these one can look forward to the future with at least some optimism. The renaissance of ambitious music in Europe is truly heartwarming, against all odds and like an oasis in the desert of mediocrity that modern life pushes down our throats. Well done indeed!

czwartek, 27 lutego 2014

Leszek Dranicki – Leszek Dranicki (Swinging Tricity Vol.5) (2013) ***

Leszek Dranicki - vocals, guitar
many others


By Adam Baruch

This is the fifth installment in the excellent archival series documenting Polish Jazz created in the country's Tricity on the Baltic Sea, one of the important centers where Polish Jazz thrives and over the years produced numerous first-rate musicians and superb bands. The series presents material, which in most cases never previously appeared in any form and therefore is of immense historic importance.

This chapter presents the vocalist / guitarist Leszek Dranicki, who was a member of the Jazz-Rock Fusion ensemble Baszta, which is also documented in this series, and later played in several other groups (including the legendary Krzak) and recorded as a leader. This album is an expanded reissue of his debut solo album "With A Little Help…", originally released by Polskie Nagrania / Muza, with six bonus tracks recorded later at radio sessions.

The music consists all of Jazz, Blues and Pop standards, which Dranicki sings (in English) and plays guitar on. Although some of the arrangements are pretty nice, the overall effect is far from spectacular. As usual the attempt to sing in English simply falls apart and spoils the pleasure of the instrumental work, which is better by far. Dranicki is a good guitar player with a Bluesy feel and splendid technical efficiency. The two bonus tracks recorded with bassist Andrzej Cudzich and drummer Eryk Kulm are the most impressive and the last two solo tracks are the weakest.

The problem with this album is that is completely lacks any originality and shows how some of the musicians behind the Iron Curtain wanted to copy what was happening elsewhere, rather than create some new facets in their musical explorations. Of course this material is still worthy, especially as part of an archival series.

This is another great piece of Polish Jazz history, which should definitely be told and preserved as part of the country's Cultural Heritage. Kudos to Marcin Jacobson for creating this series and keeping it going!

środa, 26 lutego 2014

Motion Trio – Polonium (2013) ****

Janusz Wojtarowicz - accordion
Pawel Baranek - accordion
Maric Galazyn - accordion
Leszek Mozdzer - piano


By Adam Baruch

The Polish accordion trio, called Motion Trio, is one of the most intriguing musical ensembles active today, mostly acknowledged in the contemporary Classical sphere, but known also to cross over to other music areas, including Jazz. Founded in 1996 by Janusz Wojtarowicz, who is the trio's leader and primary composer of the original music they perform, the trio also includes Pawel Baranek and Marcin Galazyn. Over time the Motion Trio turned out to be a most prolific recording act and this is their eleventh album since 2002.

This album plays tribute to the four great Polish contemporary Classical composers, who achieved international fame and recognition, often more so abroad than at home: Witold Lutoslawski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Gorecki and Wojciech Kilar. In addition they also play one composition by Wojtarowicz co-composed with accordionist Jacek Holubowski, a member and primary composer of Acoustic Acrobats, another excellent Polish ensemble. Also included, as a special track, is a composition by Marta Plaszynska, a famous Polish composer living in the USA, dedicated to the trio. Polish Jazz pianist Leszek Mozdzer guests on the Gorecki piece.

The accordion is sadly a most mistreated and misunderstood instrument in contemporary music, usually associated with folklore, street music and other "low culture" phenomena by Classical music snobs. Very few music lovers understand the incredible wealth of the instrument, its limitless possibilities and the beauty of its profound sound. Therefore the fantastic exposure that the accordion is given by the Motion Trio is a most welcome occurrence of great musical importance. This, in addition to the sheer virtuosity and inventiveness of the trio members, is a guarantee of first-class musical experience, which this album offers.

Although the unusual instrumentation may seem a bit strange in relation to the four compositions by the four Master composers, open-minded listeners will be very quickly completely absorbed in the new sonorities and re-discover these pieces in a new light, with undeniable delight. Of course playing such ambitious music speaks highly of the trio's cerebral approach on one hand and emotional abilities on the other as far as keeping their minds open to a wide scope of music rather than thread on the easy path to success. During my recent meeting with Maestro Penderecki we discussed this album briefly and he wholeheartedly approved this specific interpretation of his composition, certifying his opinion in writing by autographing my copy of the album ;)

As long as works of Art like this album are being produced, our Culture is still alive and kicking, but for how long, unfortunately no one can predict.

wtorek, 25 lutego 2014

Olejniczak / Sendecki European Quartet – Birthday Live #2 (2013) ****

Andrzej Olejniczak - tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet
Wladyslaw Sendecki - piano, keyboards
Laurent Vernerey - bass
Mark Mondesir - drums


By Adam Baruch

This is a live recording at the Blue Note Poznan Jazz club, celebrating the club's fourteenth Anniversary, by a wonderful quartet led by two extraordinary Polish Jazz heroes: saxophonist Andrzej Olejniczak and pianist Wladyslaw Sendecki, with French bassist Laurent Vernerey and British drummer Mark Mondesir. Olejniczak and Sendecki share some of the glory days of the Polish Jazz in the 1970s, when they were both members of the legendary Extra Ball ensemble and founders of the no less legendary Sun Ship ensemble. Both living now outside of Poland (Olejniczak in Spain and Sendecki in Germany) they are still an integral part of the Polish Jazz phenomenon, as this album proves beyond any doubt. The album includes seven pieces, two each by Olejniczak, Sendecki and Krzysztof Komeda and the remaining one being a folk tune arranged by Sendecki.

The members of this quartet are some of the finest European Jazz musicians and the resulting album is simply exceptional in every respect. The music is all excellent from start to finish, modern full-fledged and highly spirited Jazz with numerous superb solo spots and an exceptional live ambience, which happens only rarely. It is obvious that everybody had a wonderful time and the musicians are simply giving everything they have, sharing, supporting and challenging each other constantly in perfect harmony and with telepathic thoughtfulness. Although the two soloists are naturally in the center of attention, one must immediately recognize the incredible role of the outstanding rhythm section, which stands shoulder to shoulder with the soloists at all times.

The saxophone and piano solos are all sensational and there is no exaggeration whatsoever in that statement. In many respects these performances are absolute classics, which should be taught at music schools as examples of what real Jazz is all about, especially European Jazz, as this is, again in many respects, a revelation of the European elegance and sophistication that makes all the difference. This music is completely devoid of ego trips and attempts to prove who can play faster or louder or prettier, it is simply a perfect teamwork, which is always the ground upon great Jazz music is firmly based.

The last tune on the album is dedicated to the memory of the great Polish Jazz bassist Zbigniew Wegehaupt, who was not only a friend of the Polish musicians but also a dear personal friend of mine and whose tragic and premature death left a scar in the hearts of all of us.

There is not much more that needs to be said here, except for Gracias, Danke, Merci, Thanks and of course Dziekuje to all the people involved for this heartbreakingly beautiful music.

poniedziałek, 24 lutego 2014

We4 – Harmonijnie (2013) **

Wojciech Milewski - harmonica
Karol Szymanowski - vibraphone
Grzegorz Nadolny - bass
Piotr Biskupski - drums


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by Polish Jazz quartet called We4, which consists of harmonica player Wojciech Milewski, vibraphonist Karol Szymanowski, bassist Grzegorz Nadolny and drummer Piotr Biskupski. They perform nine tunes, all standards.

The music is on the extreme easy side of the Jazz spectrum, with familiar themes played pleasantly by harmonica, which dominates the proceedings, mellow vibraphone playing mostly in the background, accompanied by a swinging rhythm section. Except for the unusual match between the harmonica and vibraphone the entire proceeding presents no intellectual challenge whatsoever and can be easily played as background music in a hotel lobby or restaurant. The recording quality of this album is very good, in complete contrast to its contents, so HiFi stores selling high range equipment to half-deaf nouveau riche is another place for this album to be used.

Why on earth would someone go through the effort to produce an album like this beats me, but what do I know?

niedziela, 23 lutego 2014

Michal Ciesielski – Between Black & White (2013) ****

Michal Ciesielski - piano

BCD 30

By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by the young Polish Jazz pianist / composer Michal Ciesielski, which presents thirteen compositions, twelve of which are his own original compositions and one is a standard. Ciesielski performs the music on solo piano, which is a very bold and courageous statement quite unusual for a debut.

Although Ciesielski is a very eloquent pianist, the real surprise here are his delightful compositions; a collection of impressions, miniatures and other ditties, which are all quite charming even if seemingly simplistic. Perhaps a great melody line and an elegant harmony is exactly what we need in times like these, when we are being smothered with overwhelming racket. This album is like a breath of fresh air or a whiff of women's perfume in a malodorous environment.

To be perfectly honest this music is only marginally associated with Jazz. The compositions, or at least most of them, have a distinct Classical music influence, folkloristic touches, Ragtime memories and Broadway classic songwriting qualities, which of course is all perfectly acceptable. Ciesielski will surely find his own language in time, which seems pretty evident judging his achievements so far.

The piano playing is a bit too "pretty" as far as my personal taste is concerned, perhaps due to the influence of pianist Leszek Mozdzer, who seems to be hovering in the background, but again time will surely cure this sooner or later. And pretty or not, it is definitely excellent and enjoyable.

Overall this is an impressive debut, well within the conventional Jazz mainstream, which usually offers little originality, which this album is awash with. Ciesielski is definitely on my radar from now on, destined to go places. Well done indeed!

sobota, 22 lutego 2014

Maciej Grzywacz – Solo (2014) ***1/2

Maciej Grzywacz - guitar


By Adam Baruch

This is a solo guitar album by veteran Polish Jazz guitarist / composer Maciej Grzywacz, and after many years of playing mostly electric guitar his comeback to the acoustic classical guitar, his first musical love. The album presents nine tracks, two of which are his compositions and the rest are standards.

Polish Jazz fans familiar with his recordings with the group (0-58) or his earlier solo efforts will find this album quite different in comparison. This is naked acoustic guitar playing completely natural acoustic sounds, usually associated with Classical music. Although the music comes from the Jazz world, the solo guitar arrangements change their overall appearance drastically, especially as far as the rhythmic approach is concerned, which turns the well known Jazz pieces into somewhat somber, melancholic Classical pieces. The melodic themes are still there, but the swing is gone.

Therefore Jazz oriented listeners might find this album a bit too much to swallow, especially in the long term. Although the album is only slightly over thirty minutes in duration, this is way beyond the scope of attention of people who need to tap their feet in order to enjoy music. Although Grzywacz is an excellent player with splendid technical proficiency, which is easily recognizable, I'm afraid the public will find this way above their heads and move on to greener pastures.

I enjoy this music myself, but I don't think that this album adds anything significant to the already superb recorded legacy by Grzywacz. But an artist has a right to indulge himself from time to time.

piątek, 21 lutego 2014

World Orchestra – Live In Gdansk (2013) ***

Grzech Piotrowski - saxophone, conductor
Large Orchestra and international guests

UNIVERSAL 028948107599

By Adam Baruch

The World Orchestra is a brainchild of Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer Grzech Piotrowski, who managed to create an international ensemble of dozens of musicians from all over the world, which performs a sort of Jazz-World Fusion music, based on melodic themes with strong ethnic flavors. This album presents a live recording by the World Orchestra, featuring some world-famous World Music artists, like the Bulgarian kaval player Theodosii Spassov, Finnish kantele player Sinikka Langeland, the Bulgarian Voices Angelite choir and many others. Polish artists included Atom String Quartet, pianist Marcin Wasilewski and a large orchestra; all in all 84 (according to the liner notes) musicians on one stage. They perform fourteen pieces, most of which were composed by Piotrowski, with a few exceptions.

Although the logistics behind this project must have been staggering and the basic idea of combining musical cultures is definitely commendable, the overall result is very problematic. There is no common bond linking the different pieces together, no thematic thread, not even a loosely devised common denominator. As a result each of the pieces more or less works on its own, but is not connected to anything before and after it and the entire concert becomes a sort of tribute to different folkloristic themes, but not more. Although all the musicians involved are true masters of their respective trade, the lush orchestral arrangements and the ambience of Smooth Jazz floating above create a typical overproduced easy-listening music, which keeps the brain in a state of blissful lethargy.

This kind of domesticated World Music is very popular since it is accessible to large crowds, who would definitely have a problem to stomach some authentic Folklore and need the sugary envelope to be able to swallow it. Of course one can wonder is this is the correct way to bring new musical thrills to people, but that becomes a question of moral / artistic choices.

The CD is accompanied by a DVD of the same concert, which adds no additional music beyond the contents of the CD and is therefore completely redundant.

czwartek, 20 lutego 2014

JazzBaltica Ensemble / David Murray – Baltic Suite (1993) ****

Tomasz Stanko - trumpet

Big Band


By Adam Baruch

This is a relatively little known album recorded live by a large assembly of Jazz musicians from several countries situated around the Baltic Sea, called JazzBaltica Ensemble, directed by American saxophonist / composer David Murray. The music was recorded during the second JazzBaltica Festival held in Germany. The ensemble included some of the absolutely top-notch Jazz players from the Baltic countries, such as Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, Swedish bassist Anders Jormin, Finnish drummer Jukkis Uotila and many others. Another American taking part in the ensemble is tuba player Howard Johnson, who very often plays with European Jazz musicians. The music is a suite arranged for a large ensemble / Big Band, which comprises of several earlier compositions by Murray, which were reworked anew and incorporated into a coherent suite.

The music is a wonderful example of a Big Band setting, which allows for a series of expanded improvisations by all the participants, either individually or in small groups, accompanied by the entire ensemble. Although clear melodic themes are stated periodically, most of the music is freely improvised and allows for a large degree of individual expression. The solos are all exceptional, which is not surprising considering the incredible level of the musicians involved.

Although directed by Murray, this is typically European Jazz, with its relaxed and even somewhat melancholic ambience and sophisticated solos, which open up and explore new sonorities well beyond the standard Big Band arrangements. Several of these solo excursions depart beyond the thematic framework of the pieces, which build up this suite, being completely free spirited and spontaneously created, which is a norm as far as European Big Bands are concerned.

Overall this is a superb piece of large ensemble music, exquisitely performed and worthy of an honorable place among other similar efforts of European Jazz. For Tomasz Stanko aficionados, like myself, this is simply a must, especially since so few people know about this album!

środa, 19 lutego 2014

Slawek Dudar Quartet – Inside City (2014) ***1/2

Slawek Dudar - saxophone
Robert Jarmuzek - piano
Adam Kabacinski - bass
Wojciech Bulinski - drums
Artur Lesicki - guitar
Jacek Zamecki - vocals

LUNA 337

By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album as a leader by Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer Slawek Dudar, recorded by his quartet, which also includes pianist Robert Jarmuzek, bassist Adam Kabacinski and drummer Wojciech Bulinski. A couple of guest musicians: vocalist Jacek Zamiecki and guitarist Artur Lesicki participate on selected tracks. The album presents seven original compositions, all by Dudar.

Musically the album presents the lighter side of the Jazz spectrum, somewhere between mainstream, Jazz-Rock Fusion (when the guitar is present) and Smooth Jazz, but in contrast to most albums released with such characteristics it is a solid and valuable contribution, especially due to the excellent compositions, which are all surprisingly diverse, melodic and far from being trivial or banal. Actually some of these tunes are truly outstanding to be honest.

Dudar has a nice tone and plays with self-confidence and a lot of feeling. He manages to sty within the Jazz framework and not cross over to the Smooth Jazz vocabulary (or lack of it), which is often the case. Jarmuzek plays some splendid piano parts, very supportive and always displaying great taste. His contributions keep the album solidly on the Jazz ground. The rhythm section, especially the drums, although perfectly executed and technically fine, is a bit too Rocky for my taste, but that is a minor point.

The album has a very good sound quality, balance and ambience, which in addition to the fine music makes it a most pleasant listening voyage. For me this music is "sunny" and perfect for a ride on a shore in our kind of weather. Sometimes the morose Polish melancholy is simply too much, and this album manages to avoid it almost completely, except for the last tune, which is a beautiful ballad dedicated to the EST trio – not surprisingly. Very well done gentlemen!

wtorek, 18 lutego 2014

Artur Dutkiewicz Trio – Prana (2014) ****

Artur Dutkiewicz - piano
Michal Baranski - bass
Lukasz Zyta - drums


By Adam Baruch

This is the sixth album by Polish Jazz pianist / composer Artur Dutkiewicz, who is back in a classic piano trio format with bassist Michal Baranski and drummer Lukasz Zyta. The album presents eight compositions, seven of which are originals by Dutkiewicz and one is an adaptation of a folk tune. The album was recorded at the Studio Tokarnia and engineered by Jan Smoczynski, which of course guarantees excellent sound quality.

Dutkiewicz has an impressive resume and his contribution to the Polish Jazz scene is of course invaluable. He played for many years with the late saxophonist Tomasz Szukalski, recording with him several albums. One of the tunes on this album is dedicated to the memory of Szukalski.

The music Dutkiewicz presents on this album is very contemplative and more lyrical than usual in his case. There is also a great affinity with the Blues, a genre which is definitely one of his deepest musical sources of influence, which he openly refers to on this album, something that is rarely done by other contemporary pianists. A couple of tunes on this album re-visit the preceding album called "Mazurki", presenting music inspired by Polish folklore. Overall this is a consistently interesting selection of beautifully melodic pieces, which are performed with great sensibility and finesse.

As far as personal performances are concerned, there are no surprises herein. Dutkiewicz is an excellent pianist by any standard and his performances here are superb from start to finish. The rhythm section is also stellar, providing just the right support whenever needed and presenting both first class professionalism and mutual respect between the leader and themselves. In short this is an instant "classic" and piano trio connoisseurs should find it simply irresistible.

Let's hope that the same kind of prana (life force) that allowed Dutkiewicz to create this little gem will stay with him for many years to come. Well done indeed!

poniedziałek, 17 lutego 2014

Tim Daisy & Mikolaj Trzaska - In This Moment (2014)

Tim Daisy & Mikolaj Trzaska

Mikołaj Trzaska - alto saxophone
Tim Daisy - drums

In This Moment (2014)

By Peter Margasak

(excerpts from Peter Margasek article "Tim Daisy and Mikolaj Trzaska hit the road" covering the U.S. tour of this duo):

"Tonight Chicago jazz and improvised-music fixture Tim Daisy launches a short midwestern and southern tour with the fiery Polish reedist Mikolaj Trzaska, a regular collaborator in recent years. They first came together as members of Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble, and they've since worked together in the quartet Inner Ear with New York trombonist Steve Swell and Swedish tubaist Per-Åke Holmlander. The duo's shows are in support of a terrific, concise new album the pair just released on the drummer's Relay Records imprint called In This Moment. The recording, which features Trzaska exclusively on alto saxophone, was made in October 2012, not long after the Resonance Ensemble played the Chicago Jazz Festival. Local flavor plays heavily in the titles of the five improvised pieces, with street names like Division, Cortez, and Washtenaw turning up in three of them.

Both players are known for their power, but In This Moment is a beautifully temperate effort, one that freely taps into the swing rhythms and buoyant melodies that betray the duo's deep jazz foundations. Tonight's performance happens at Constellation, part of a double bill with another good-looking duo: vibist Jason Adasiewicz and reedist Keefe Jackson. Below you can check out one of the album's airier tracks, the gently rumbling "Grass and Trees."

source: http://www.chicagoreader.com/

niedziela, 16 lutego 2014

Milosc – Milosc DVD (2012) ****

Tymon Tymanski - bass
Mikolaj Trzaska - saxophone
Jacek Olter - drums
Leszek Mozdzer - piano
Maciej Sikala - saxophone
Jakub Staruszkiewicz - drums

AGORA 9788326812972

By Adam Baruch

This is the DVD version of the film "Milosc" by Polish director Filip Dzierzawski, which is a documentary about the Polish Jazz ensemble Milosc, which was the most influential group on the Polish Jazz scene in the 1990, revolutionizing the approach to Jazz in the country, establishing the Yass sub-genre and most importantly waking up the local scene from the mainstream lethargy, which was overwhelmingly dominating the scene for almost two decades that preceded the 1990s.

Milosc was formally founded in April 1988, when the group which included bassist Tymon Tymanski and saxophonist Mikolaj Trzaska changed its name to Milosc. Soon after the group was joined by clarinetist Jerzy Mazzoll, who left after a brief stay and then the drummer Jacek Olter and pianist Leszek Mozdzer joined the group creating the core quartet of Tymanski / Trzaska / Olter / Mozdzer, which recorded the group's debut album. A year later the quartet expanded into the full stable lineup when saxophonist Maciej Sikala joined them to create the quintet version of Milosc. After several fruitful years and a series of brilliant albums, two with legendary American trumpeter Lester Bowie, the group started to disintegrate, when Mozdzer left in 1998 to pursue a solo career, Olter died tragically after a long mental illness and Trzaska left the group in 2001. A year later the group played its last gig and formally announced the end of its activity in July 2002, after fourteen years of existence.

The documentary, which was filmed during a four years period (2008-2012) pays tribute to the group's history and to the individual personalities, focusing on the meeting of the Milosc members organized in order to prepare for a concert by the legendary original lineup, less Olter of course who was replaced by drummer Jakub Staruszkiewicz. The documentary moves between the scenes captured during these rehearsals, historic footage and interviews with individual members, speaking their minds out. The director wisely avoids any external commentary, simply presenting the reality portrayed by the camera, leaving the spectator free to reach his own conclusions. Although not a typical documentary by any standard, the film presents a cohesive and intelligent document, which highlights several profound observations about people, music and culture.

Milosc was all about freedom. Considering the fact that the group was established at the crucial point of modern Polish political history, when the oppressive Socialistic Regime was about to collapse and Poland was finally to achieve its new political Freedom, Milosc expressed the same feeling of upheaval, but on an artistic plane. Polish Jazz, which exploded with incredible vitality and freedom of expression in the 1960s, slowly ran out of steam as a result of economic and social hardships and by the late 1970s and 1980s it was almost completely devoid of any truly spirited, adventurous, inspired activity and completely immersed into ambitionless mainstream. The young generation of Polish Jazz musicians and fans was about to rebel against this stagnant state of affairs and Milosc was one of the first and most successful demonstrations of this rebellion.

Although initially associated with Free Jazz, Milosc never actually played Free Jazz, surely not close to its American origins established by Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane. The group was an amalgam of many musical influences and created a unique and new approach and stylistic expression, which eventually was christened Yass. And Yass was more clear about what it didn't want to be rather than about what it wanted to be, a rebellion against "pretty" melodic, carefully planned, well defined by harmonic conventions music. No more of that old-fashioned bullshit! Yass was "dirty", imperfect, spontaneous, unconventional and constantly changing, but it did not exclude the element of melody and standard meters. Free? Yes by all means, but definitely not Free Jazz.

From the very start Milosc was an impossible combination of conflicting strong personalities and diametrically different musical approaches. Why it managed to exists for such a long time is a mystery and a miracle. But musical miracles do happen and when they do, the listeners are the ones to collect the crops. The musicians, initially euphoric, start to suffer at some point and then simply can't take it any more. The key conflict inside Milosc was always the clash between Trzaska and Mozdzer: a rebel and visionary and a classically trained hipster. This fundamental conflict was what brought Milosc to its knees, but it wasn't of course the only factor. Poland and its cultural environment went through a dramatic change following the fall of the Socialist Regime, and a new reality emerged; politically, socially and of course culturally. This new reality opened up new possibilities and closed the lid on many others, which existed earlier. Such dramatic environmental changes have a profound impact on people, and musicians are people after all.

The 2008 meeting between the Milosc members, which is the focal theme of this film, shows how profound these changes are, so profound that although they are able to play together, they are unable to communicate as human beings. Separated by an unbreachable chasm Trzaska and Mozdzer are further apart that ever, the former representing the Polish avant-garde scene still being its non-formal leader in every sense and the latter representing the absolutely opposite ad-nauseam commercialism; a clash of Titans, which simply has no peaceful solutions.

So is this a film about failure? About ideas and values that get outdated? Personally I don't think so. Yes, sometimes not everything works as planned, but that does not necessarily mean a failure and in some rare occasions failures can be magnificent. I still very much believe that the same values that stood behind Milosc: freedom, pioneering search for artistic truth, personal integrity and the courage to do your own thing, are as much valid today as they have always been. Opportunism and conformism have always been and still are the root of evil.

This film is a wonderful piece of musical history, which sheds some light on a much neglected period in the history of Polish Culture. Although perhaps unintended, it also spotlights some profound artistic and ethic dilemmas, leaving the resolutions to the spectators. An absolute must to all Polish Jazz connoisseurs, wherever they might by!

sobota, 15 lutego 2014

Piotr Damasiewicz Project - Imprographic 1 (2013)

Piotr Damasiewicz - trumpet
Gerard Lebik - saxophone
Jakub Mielcarek - bass
Gabriel Ferrandini - drums


By Adam Baruch

This double CD album captures live performances by the quartet called Piotr Damasiewicz Project, led by Polish Jazz trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, with saxophonist Gerard Lebik, bassist Jakub Mielcarek (both members of the Polish ensemble Erase) and Portuguese drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. The music was recorded over a short period of just six days during the quartet's performances in three clubs, each in a different Polish city. All the music is spontaneously improvised and is credited to all the quartet members.

Stylistically the music belongs to the gray area between spontaneous Improvised Music, Free Jazz and contemporary Avant-garde. The concept of using graphic notations instead of notes, as the basic directions upon which the improvisations are based, is of course quite old and was pioneered decades ago by such Jazz icons as Anthony Braxton as well as several contemporary Classical composers.

Although Damasiewicz and his colleagues are obviously very talented musicians, this music leaves me stone cold. Having been listening to this kind of music for the last fifty years, I don't find any substance here, which justifies listening to this music for over two hours; there is no real innovation, no fire that I can feel, no concept except for total freedom. Even the collective improvisation is quite limited, as the two soloists rarely play together and the rhythm section contributes very little to the overall result. Of course there are some great moments, but overall this is not going anywhere as far as I can hear. There are some differences between the music on the first and on the second CD of this set, with the latter being definitely more engaging to the listener, but still it was mostly a déjà vu of music heard many times before. Although the liner notes hint towards such legendary sources of influence as the British Spontaneous Music Ensemble, or Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun and other European improvising ensembles, honestly I fail to see the parallels here.

Of course this kind of music deserves to be documented and kudos to the For Tune label for including it in its catalogue. Hardcore Avant-garde fans will definitely find this interesting, as this kind of music is certainly quite rare these days.

czwartek, 13 lutego 2014

Bartek Pieszka Quartet – Slow Motion (2014)

Bartek Pieszka - vibraphone
Nikola Kołodziejczyk - piano
Maciej Szczyciński - double bass
Sebastian Kuchczyński - drums
Katarzyna Ruda - oboe (1)
Piotr Toruński - bass clarinet (7)

SJ 008

By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by the young Polish Jazz vibraphonist Bartek Pieszka and his quartet, which also includes pianist Nikola Kołodziejczyk, bassist Maciej Szczyciński and drummer Sebastian Kuchczyński. Guest musicians: oboe player Katarzyna Ruda and bass clarinetist Piotr Toruński are featured ne one track each. The album presents ten pieces, of which four are standards and six are originals, four by Pieszka, one by Szczyciński and one co-composed by Pieszka and Kołodziejczyk. The album was recorded over a period of two years several years back but only now sees the light of day.

The vibraphone, one of the noblest instruments, which has a wonderful tradition in Jazz music, is sadly almost forgotten in recent years. The Polish Jazz scene is perhaps the last bastion where the vibraphone plays a significant role in Jazz music and new players of the instrument still join the ranks of legendary veterans. It is therefore with great joy and special attention that every new discovery in that area is welcomed by me and other Polish Jazz enthusiasts.

This album presents a balanced mixture of original music and standards, ballads and up-tempo numbers, all kept within mainstream Jazz tradition. There is nothing groundbreaking about this music and the no risks are taken, but the overall result is definitely enjoyable and well done, especially in view of the young age of the players involved. Mainstream Jazz connoisseurs will definitely enjoy this ride from start to finish.

As far as individual contributions are concerned, Pieszka emerges somewhat subdued and is seldom in the lead. To be perfectly hones this album is absolutely "stolen" by the incredible performances by Kołodziejczyk, who plays most of the solos and is by far the most gifted player on this album. The rhythm section is also interesting, which the drummer being a bit too busy for my taste, buy playing with feel and imagination. The bassist is very musical and supportive. The album often makes the impression of a piano trio album rather than a quartet recording. As debuts go, this is fresh and promising, hopefully providing a glimpse of future to come for these youngsters. Definitely a nice listening experience!

Inauguracja Sceny Intuitywnej Domu Wydawniczego ForTune!!!

Scena Intuitywna Domu Wydawniczego For Tune zaprasza na premierę najnowszego albumu "To the inside" formacji The Intuition Orchestra z udziałem Marcina Olaka.

Album dostępny będzie na platformie NuPlays.pl (http://intuition.nuplays.pl) nie tylko formie cyfrowej (MP3, 320 kbps), ale również:

- w zestawie z biletem na koncert w klubie Powiększenie (20 lutego, od 20:00) lub na jego internetową transmisję pozwalającą na obejrzenie koncertu na żywo z dowolnego miejsca na świecie;

- w pakietach z płytami CD, w tym z rewelacyjnie przyjętym albumem FROMM oraz kolekcjonerską płytą Legendarne Ząbki.

Koncerty w ramach Sceny Intuitywnej Domu Wydawniczego For Tune będą odbywać się raz w miesiącu. Każdy koncert będzie niepowtarzalny, jedyny w swoim rodzaju. Muzyka którą usłyszą uczestnicy koncertu będzie tworzona na żywo przez wybitnych improwizatorów, którzy bardzo często spotkają się w scenie po raz pierwszy.

20 lutego The Intuition Orchestra zagra w składzie:

Ryszard Wojciul – saksofony, klarnety, EWI
Bolek Błaszczyk –instrumenty klawiszowe, wiolonczela
Jacek Alka – perkusja
Marcin Olak – gitary

Oraz zaproszeni goście:
Zdzisław Piernik – tuba
Anna Gadt – śpiew
Monika Szulińska – instrumenty perkusyjne

O The Intuition Orchestra:

Muzyka The Intuition Orchestry powstaje w drodze kolektywnej improwizacji – na koncertach lub w studiu nagraniowym. Historia The Intuition Orchestry sięga pierwszej połowy lat 80. XX wieku. Wówczas koledzy z podstawowej szkoły muzycznej – Ryszard Wojciul, Bolek Błaszczyk i Jacek Alka rozpoczęli eksperymenty z muzyką improwizowaną. Bardzo szybko ich muzyczne spotkania przerodziły się w sesje grania intuitywnego, których rezultaty utrwalone zostały na wydanym dwa lata temu archiwalnym albumie Legendarne Ząbki, będącym niezwykłym dokumentem undergrandowej twórczości, zupełnie nietypowej dla tamtego czasu w Polsce. Nazwa The Intuition Orchestra pojawiła się jednak dopiero w roku 2008, kiedy po kilkunastu latach przerwy Ryszard, Bolek i Jacek ponownie spotkali się aby wspólnie improwizować. Od tego czasu zrealizowali kilka sesji nagraniowych. Jedna z nich z udziałem Grażyny Auguścik i Zdzisława Piernika ukazał się na płycie Fromm, uznanej przez blog Polish Jazz za jedną z trzech najlepszych polskich płyt roku 2012. W książeczce do najnowszego albumu zespołu To the inside czytamy - „duch naszej muzyki pozostaje niezmienny, choć dotyka różnych obszarów muzycznej estetyki. Nie boimy się konsonansu, choć nasza gra jest często chropowata i dzika. Wspólne komponowanie oparte jest na słuchaniu partnera, na współodczuwaniu, na szukaniu przestrzeni, na wzajemnych inspiracjach. Podróż do wnętrza, zaprowadziła nas w nowe rejony, także za sprawą udziału w nagraniu Marcina Olaka – jazzmana z krwi i kości. Materiał uzupełniliśmy o utwór nagrany z udziałem legendy polskiej muzyki intuitywnej – członka Grupy w Składzie – Jacka Malickiego, oraz specjalny bonus – nagranie kończące płytę, zrealizowane w roku 1993.

(source: ForTune Records)

Erase – New And Old Dreams (2013) ***1/2

Gerard Lebik - tenor saxophone
Max Mucha - bass
Jakub Mielcarek - bass
Michal Trela - drums


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by Polish Jazz quartet Erase, which consists of saxophonist Gerard Lebik, bassists Max Mucha and Jakub Mielcarek and drummer Michal Trela. The album presents a live recording at Warsaw's Pardon To Tu club, which in the last few years managed to establish an honorary position as the home of the avant-garde scene in the country's Capital. The quartet performs five completely improvised pieces attributed to all the four musicians.

The quartet presents music, which is naturally associated with the mid 1960s, when Free Jazz was at its artistic peak and musicians like Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and others bravely broke the ties with Jazz conventions and stepped into uncharted territory to expand the Art Form beyond the known boundaries. However, keeping in mind that all this happened fifty years ago, playing Free Jazz today lost much of its originality, especially in view of the fact that its true pioneers are all dead by now.

On the other hand, bands like Erase are needed today to shake up the somewhat stagnant Jazz scene, which often gravitates towards the dreaded retrograde mainstream. Therefore this total and uncompromising music is a welcome wake up call in that respect. Of course Erase has a lot to say on its own account, with the drenched saxophone wall-of-sound effect and the double bass lines and intensive drumming. It is a brutal encounter, which can leave no listener indifferent.

Free Jazz is mostly an essence of a live performance and Free Jazz recordings suffer from the same problem that food suffers from, i.e. eating it is quite different than seeing pictures of it. Hearing this concert was probably a momentous experience for those lucky to be there at the time. The recording is only a secondary experience. That does not mean of course that the music is not worth being recorded, on the contrary For Tune made exactly the right decision to include it in their catalogue, simply for what it is: unadulterated explosion of musical energy, which pays tribute to the glorious past. And since nobody else is doing anything remotely similar, even more so!

I don't know if the album's title is a tribute to the fabulous Old And New Dreams ensemble, which by itself was a tribute to Ornette Coleman; regardless if this is intentional or not, it is certainly most appropriate.

środa, 12 lutego 2014

Gorzycki & Gruchot – Experimental Psychology (2013) ****

Rafal Gorzycki - drums, percussion
Sebastian Gruchot - acoustic & electric violin, viola, live electronics


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by a new duo, in which two Polish musicians combine forces to create new, experimental, adventurous music: drummer / percussionist / composer Rafal Gorzycki and violinist / composer Sebastian Gruchot (resident since many years in Norway). Gorzycki is one of Poland's most prolific and fascinating activist known to listeners of contemporary Polish music from his activities as a member of such ensembles as Sing Sing Penelope, Ecstasy Project and other collaborations. Gruchot also participated on several Sing Sing Penelope albums, but most of his work is in the sphere of contemporary Classical, Avant-Garde and electronic music. The album presents eight original pieces, seven of which were co-composed by the duo and the last one is by Gorzycki.

The music is a wonderful glimpse into a new musical universe, which is intimate and often minimalistic, but extremely expressive and captivating. As difficult as it is to come up with something truly innovative these days, the duo manages to do it brilliantly. The seemingly endless array of percussive sounds, rhythms and patterns that Gorzycki manages to produce is simply awe-inspiring. He is one of the very few drummers, who actually play on their instrument, rather than beat the hell out of it. Gruchot is an ideal partner in this process, as his idiosyncratic contribution on strings or electronics are also very "percussive" and compliment the sounds produced by Gorzycki.

There is very little melody here in the conventional sense, and it is up to the listener to discover and possibly to weave his own melodic content around the ambient vistas produced by the duo. Perhaps this is an opening of a new Art Form, where the listener actually participates with the musicians in the process of creation on an imaginary plane, or perhaps it's just my feverish imagination. In any case this music is definitely something else in every sense.

In his liner notes Gorzycki says that he wanted to move away from the familiar Jazz patterns he operated within for many years. He surely managed to do it here, but rather than abandoning them he transformed them into new tools of expression. True, this is not straightforward Jazz in any sense, but why should it be. The path of constant progress, discovery and exploration is the only true path of every Artist, and we, the audience in this case, should be grateful for the gift bestowed upon us as a result.

This is definitely one of the best experimental albums recorded in Poland in 2013 and hopefully will be discovered by open-minded listeners. I ca only salute Gorzycki & Gruchot for being honest to themselves and doing their own thing. Chapeau!

poniedziałek, 10 lutego 2014

Obara International – Live At Manggha (2013) ****

Maciej Obara - alto saxophone
Dominik Wania - piano
Ole Morten Vagan - bass
Gard Nilssen - drums


By Adam Baruch

This is the second album by the international quartet led by Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer Maciej Obara, called Obara International, which also includes the superb Polish pianist Dominik Wania and a Norwegian rhythm section: bassist Ole Morten Vagan and drummer Gard Nilssen. The album, which was recorded live, comprises of six pieces, five of which are original compositions by Obara and the remaining one is by Krzysztof Komeda, to whom this group dedicated their debut album, simply called "Komeda".

The music is placed somewhere between Free Form and contemporary Modern Jazz of the European variety. Most of the tunes get an expanded treatment, which includes extensive solo and group improvisations, and last around ten minutes each except one tune which is almost twice as long and the closing track which is a brief farewell. Although the melodic content is clearly recognizable, it is kept somewhat in the background, as if on a separate plane, and the improvisations are the focal point of this music, changing in tempi and intensity, but always out there on the forefront.

The level of musicianship involved herein is truly admirable and of the highest standing by any standard. This is by far not easy music and the amount of technique, talent and sophistication required in order to play it is simply astounding, not to mention the emotional tension. The entire concert portrays a wonderful flow of energy between the quartet members and of course the combined creative power of the quartet is even greater than the sum of the individual statements. Personally I enjoy the contributions by the pianist most of all. Wania, whom I've been watching carefully for a few years now, is definitely one of the greatest promises of Polish Jazz and is destined to get places. His brilliant work on this album, both as a soloist and as an ensemble member, is simply outstanding. Obara is a great player as well, of course, but his melancholy and mellow tone often seem to push the music somewhat backwards into the mainstream conformity. The Norwegian rhythm section is solid and reliable, when needed, and inventive and spontaneous when the music calls for it, in short they play splendidly, as only the Scandinavian rhythm sections can.

Overall this is another musical gem that the Polish For Tune label manages to put out for the world to hear and admire. The sound quality, separation and warmth are incredible considering the fact that this is a live recording. European Jazz connoisseurs are expected to lick their fingers upon exposure to this wonderful music. Well done gentlemen!

BTW Obara's Polish quartet uses the excellent RGG rhythm section: bassist Maciej Garbowski and drummer Krzysztof Gradziuk, which of course is also a dreamy team, so where is their next album I ask?

Oles Brothers & Jorgos Skolias – Sefardix (2013) ****

Jorgos Skolias - vocals
Marcin Oles - bass
Bartlomiej Brat Oles - drums


By Adam Barch

The Sephardic Jewish Culture, with its heavenly beautiful music, poetry and above all personal warmth must be one of world's best kept and deepest secrets, especially so in Eastern Europe, which was dominated for centuries by the Ashkenazi Jewish way of life and of course Ashkenazi Jewish Culture. In Poland, which was the center of Eastern European Jewish life in pre-Holocaust period, Sephardic Jews (like my Family) were an oddity and in most cases lost their roots along the way, adopting the Yiddish language and the Ashkenazi customs and forgetting the Ladino language and the Sephardic traditions. But of course Sephardic Jews and their Culture continued to thrive in Greece, Turkey, North Africa and in the Holy Land. For centuries Jews lived in two parallel universes with almost no contact between these two cultural spheres. But absurdly the monsters, who brought the Holocaust on the Jewish People, managed to pay no attention to any such cultural differences; the Greek Jewish community, mostly from the ancient town of Salonika, found themselves in cattle wagons on their way to Auschwitz before the horror was over. Apparently Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews burned much in the same way.

This album, created by Poland's most revered Jazz rhythm section: bassist Marcin Oles and drummer Bartlomiej Brat Oles, collectively known as Oles Brothers, with vocalist Jorgos Skolias, obviously of Greek origin, pays homage to the Sephardic Culture, based on traditional Ladino and Greek songs, except for one piece which is an original composition by Bartlomiej Brat Oles, adopted and re-invented by the trio. All the texts were translated / transformed into the Greek language and Skolias performs them mixing many vocal techniques, from declamation, vocalese, chanting, whistling, murmuring and up to almost straightforward singing, always marvelously.

The album creates a wonderful atmosphere of intimacy and minimalism, which engulfs the listener slowly but insistently, breaking cultural barriers by its immediacy and intrinsic charm. I have no idea if this charm works as well on people who have never been exposed to this kind of music, and I hope it does, since the overall effect is simply magical. Skolias takes this music into further areas, like Greek Rebetiko, mainly due to his idiosyncratic expressionism, which emphasizes the affinity of all Middle Eastern cultures. Oles Brothers prove again their outstanding ability to keep their open-minded approach, regardless of the stylistic circumstances. Maciej plays some heartbreaking bow passages and amazing plucking solos and Bartlomiej plays percussion as if he was born on the desert planes of North Africa.

By all means this is one of the most original albums recorded in Poland since many years, a bold statement which is not afraid to take risks and break new ground. The idea for this project was initiated by Miron Zajfert, the artistic director of the New Jewish Music Festival in Warsaw, who deserves much credit, as does the For Tune label for recording and releasing this music, saving it for posterity. Jewish Culture connoisseurs are definitely grateful!

niedziela, 9 lutego 2014

Bester Quartet – Krakoff (2013) ***1/2

Jaroslaw Bester - accordion
Jaroslaw Tyrala - violin
Oleg Dyyak - various instruments
Mikolaj Pospieszalski - bass


By Adam Baruch

Rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust, Jewish Culture in Poland, which flourished for almost a millennium before being abruptly and mercilessly eradicated from the face of the earth, enjoys today a tremendous renewed Renaissance. Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Warsaw's Singer Festival and the New Jewish Music Festival are only the main events celebrating the Jewish Culture, which should have disappeared into thin air like the smoke from the chimneys of the crematoriums. However, a cautious examination of this phenomenon reveals several fundamental differences between the pre-Holocaust Polish Jewish Culture and its renewed manifestation.

Firstly Jewish Culture was created by Jews for Jews, rarely, if at all, escaping the closed Jewish environment almost completely separated from their Polish neighbors. Jewish music was performed during Jewish celebrations and Holidays, in Jewish shtetls, where gentiles (goyim) were seldom present. Even in the major towns, like Warsaw itself, Jews had their own entertainment centers, again rarely frequented by gentiles. Since there is no sizeable Jewish population in Poland, today's Jewish Culture is of course presented to the non-Jewish Poles, most of which were born after WWII, most of them with little or no knowledge whatsoever about Jews and their Culture. And yet for some inexplicable reason this Culture fascinates these audiences, a sort of nostalgia to something they know existed once but is no more.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly from the Artistic standpoint, the reborn Jewish Culture in Poland is in fact only slightly associated with the original Jewish Culture per se, often referring to the tradition as a source of inspiration rather that an attempt to revive it as it was. Even when the new culture uses the "old" terminology, like the idiom "Klezmer" for example, there is no direct similarity to what is considered or called Klezmer music today to what it was in the past. And yet a continuum was definitely achieved, which is wondrous indeed.

Bester Quartet is a classic example of the case at hand. Formed in 1997 by accordionist / composer Jaroslaw Bester, the ensemble was initially called The Cracow Klezmer Band and under that moniker released six albums on the highly respected Tzadik label owned by John Zorn. The quartet played ambitious original music, brilliantly performed by its virtuosi members, but quite honestly calling this music Klezmer or even Jewish was definitely farfetched. At some stage Bester probably realized that dichotomy and by 2012 changed the name of the ensemble to Bester Quartet (and also changed the bass player) and since released two more albums on Tzadik, the latest of which, called "The Golden Land" features music written entirely by Modechai Gebirtig and seems to be the closest to Jewish roots.

This, their ninth album, is a live recording at the National Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw, captures the band before "The Golden Land" album was released and features mostly music from their previous album "Metamorphoses", a couple of pieces from earlier albums and one sneak preview of a Gebirtig tune. The quartet includes Bester, violinist Jaroslaw Tyrala, multi-instrumentalist Oleg Dyyak and the new young bass player Mikolaj Pospieszalski. They all perform elegantly, spotlessly and obviously are highly spirited. Of course as a band they are perfectly together and they respect each other's space, allowing for extended improvised passages.

The music, which is always superbly melodic, is unfortunately somewhat unfocused stylistically. Although the arrangements try to present a "unified" musical coherence, the musical influences run freely between Gypsy folklore, Argentinean tango, Eastern-European melodic lines, Balkan rhythmic patters, in short "around the world in 70 minutes". Jewish? Not really. But of course, since there is no "Klezmer" anywhere on the cover, I have no problem with this. Overall this is music which can be enjoyed by connoisseurs all over the world and people who like to hear diversity and sophistication in the music they enjoy.

The music is beautifully recorded with superb sound quality, especially so in the case of a live recording. The album comes bundled with a DVD of the same concert, which has no additional musical content, but is a nice document of the event. This is the first album by the quartet released on a Polish label and kudos to For Tune for finally putting the record straight, which they do repeatedly time after time.

sobota, 8 lutego 2014

Aga Zaryan – Ksiega Olsnien (2011) ****1/2

Aga Zaryan - vocals
Michal Tokaj - piano
Darek Oleszkiewicz - bass
Krzysztof Herdzin - conductor

EMI 5099908449627

By Adam Baruch

This is the seventh album by Polish Jazz vocalist Aga Zaryan and a close companion to the album "A Book Of Luminous Things", released a few months earlier. If fact these two albums are identical as far as their instrumental contents is concerned, with the difference being that this album features lyrics in the Polish language, as opposed to its predecessor, which featured lyrics in English. Another slight difference is the fact that Polish Jazz vocalist Grzegorz Turnau guests on one song. I suggest to the reader to check out my review of "A Book Of Luminous Things" in order to explore the background information about these two albums and their relation to the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz as well as the information about the musicians involved in the recording.

One should not, however, assume that this is just a Polish language version of the same album. Language, and therefore consequently vocals, are intertwined intimately, as I've been trying to explain since many years. Each human language has its own melodic expression, flow, sensitivity, coloristic, sonority, etc. As a result the same song, sung in two different languages, simply "splits" into two separate entities, which can vary tremendously. This is even more obvious and evident in the case where the lyrics of the song are based on a poem, like all the songs here.

Most of the poems used as lyrics of these songs were originally written in Polish, which of course means that their "true" nature is full of the intricacies specific to that language, which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be translated into any other language. Just four of the songs here were translated from their original English version into Polish, which means that the majority of the poetry used appears in its original form. This fact has a tremendous influence on the result, which is quite different from the earlier version of the album.

Of course Jazz & Poetry is a very specific sub-genre, which demands a certain sensitivity and cultural background from its fans and avid followers, but even more so from the Artists involved. Zaryan brings forward her sensitivities, which are somehow, at least to me, much more complex and diversified in the Polish version of these songs. Her ability to play around with the words, juggle syllables, change accents and stretch notes are simply masterly herein. The very fact that these two albums use the same instrumental playback means that she managed to put together this album by surmounting such problems as different word lengths, accents, keeping the melodic lines intact and still manage to sound honest, moving and convincing. Definitely a victory of mind over matter!

Yes I personally prefer this version over the English language, not because it is "better" in any sense, but simply because as a natural Polish speaker it penetrates deeper into my psyche. People, who are not blessed with the knowledge of the Polish language, will definitely prefer the English version, in order to enjoy both the fabulous music and the wonderful poetry on their terms.

My admiration of Zaryan's awareness of the importance of lyrics, which she constantly demonstrates during her career, cannot be overstated. Her understanding that the Polish version of this album is a worthy piece of Art of its own right and determination to pull it through is truly commendable.

piątek, 7 lutego 2014

Aga Zaryan – Remembering Nina & Abbey (2013) ****1/2

Aga Zaryan - vocals
Darek Oleszkiewicz - bass
and others

PARLOPHONE 5099940988122

By Adam Baruch

This is the seventh album by the Queen in residence of the Polish Jazz scene since several years, the wonderful Aga Zaryan. As the title clearly points out, Zaryan creates here a tribute to two remarkable Afro-American female vocalists, which she admires not only for their superb vocal abilities but also for what they stood for as public figures fighting against discrimination, abuse of human and civil rights, chauvinism and sexism, both openly voicing their opinions and willing to pay the price associated with such behavior at the time. The album presents thirteen songs, all of which are either written by or associated with Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln. Zaryan is accompanied by a formidable team, which includes pianist Geri Allen, guitarist Larry Koonse, harpist Carol Robbins, bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and drummer Brian Blade.

Zaryan is known for her artistic courage, which she already proved several times during her career. This project is undoubtedly the boldest step she ever undertook, as Nina & Abbey are among the most idiosyncratic vocalist ever and in most cases any attempt to interpret their original work leads to miserable failure. Zaryan decided to approach this repertoire on her own ground, treating the songs with a new approach, reshaping them rather than trying to simply interpret them, and by doing this she managed to escape the intrinsic dangers and traps. Of course such treatment might be considered disrespectful by purists, but listening to sticklers is by definition contradictory the spirit of artistic innovation.

One of the transformations Zaryan applied to all these songs was to slow them down, sometimes just slightly and in other cases considerably. As a result this album as a whole is deeply melancholic, a state of mind which Zaryan always uses to her advantage, as she is a Grand Mistress of lyricism and its dark corners and flickering lights. Yes, it is that famous Polish melancholy, which adds a new dimension to the original songs, amalgamating the black soul of Afro-American lyricism with the tormented Polish spirit.

Another decisive factor, which creates the special atmosphere that this album conveys, is the limited and sparing usage of the instrumental accompaniment and the inclusion of the delicate harp, which ideally suits the mood. The musicians present here are all masters of their trade, which of course is easily audible, but the way Zaryan is positioned in the center of the stage with the instruments sympathetically supporting her, is simply remarkable; a classic example of personal graciousness, respect and modesty on their part.

This is another important step for Zaryan, which expands yet again her overall position as complete Artists, this time putting aside the role of a composer of original material and concentrating on interpreting the work of other women. Hopefully we'll hear her again soon singing her new original material. In the meantime this one should keep us worm for a while. Thank you Dear!
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